Alberto Aquilani is believed to be on his way back to Liverpool during the summer transfer window. He was a glorified figure at Liverpool even before his boots left their prints on the pitch. But things didn’t really pan out for the Italian midfielder at Anfield. Now, after two years, he could get a second chance under Brendan Rodgers. This might just be the right time for him to play for Liverpool once again.
While Liverpool fans are eyeballing the internet and the papers for news on the club’s first signing, Alberto Aquilani is pacing up and down his front lawn with a phone in his hand, waiting for Brendan Rodgers to give him a call, pass on the verdict and quench his throbbing anxiety at the moment.
‘Il Principino’ arrived at Liverpool in 2009, emanating excitement and anticipation in the Liverpool folklore. Few fans starred him bright even before he took his first kick in Liverpool colours. The 20 million-pounds paid for the AS Roma man boasted the aptness in replacing Xabi Alonso only to soon discover that, in hindsight, Liverpool and Benitez only shot in the dark.
Aquilani arrived at Anfield with the reputation of being a great passer of the ball, one who possessed good creativity and someone who would do well in playing as a trequartista or as a link between the defensive midfielder and the attacking player just behind the striker. Much like the role he played at Roma between De Rossi and Perrota.
There is no doubt that Liverpool was a good club to be at. The club played around creativity and quick passing, and at the time when Alonso left, the aim was to maintain this style on a consistent basis; the kind that got them to the runners-up spot in 2008. It was a perfect fit for Aquilani. This is what everybody believed. But those who harboured this train of thoughts were soon going to be proved wrong.
Before taking a deep dive into Alberto Aquilani’s injury concerns that supposedly hinder the chances of rekindling his Premier League/Liverpool career, one should consider that no foreign country is easy to settle into; be it England or any other place. For a footballer, life in a new nation takes quite a big chunk when you take the training and playing aspects out. People like Hernan Crespo and Juan Pablo Angel are classic examples of quality players who suffered the culture clash, consequently diluting their performances and time while in England.
It is reported that Brendan Rodgers is evaluating a decision on whether or not to keep Aquilani at the club for one more season keeping even this factor in mind.
“He might just not be able to settle, he might not be able to adapt to the country, so you’ve got all those issues and obviously sometimes you’re not aware of that until you speak to them.” – Rodgers
An ankle operation in the month of May, 2009, is the curse that has kept Aquilani’s Liverpool career under the wraps. The Italian midfielder was still nursing that injury when he signed on for the Merseyside club. A tough time at a new place, adapting to a new culture, new footballing styles and amidst all this, Aquilani had to stay strong and patient to recover in time to play in a Reds shirt. It was surely a testing time to say the least, for a player once considered a prodigy at Roma during his teens. In total, he managed just 25 appearances for Liverpool in his first season, all the while switching between the medical room and the pitch.
He had signed a contract for five years and his first year was dampened with half-baked performances. The owners at that time – Hicks and Gilett, were riding on the philosophy of sell-to-buy as Liverpool were cash strapped and were finding it difficult to bring in new players. At the end of the season, Rafael Benitez was fired and Aquilani lost the man who was screening him all this while.
At this point, plans were obviously going to be laid out to offload the deadwood at the club. In light of this movement, new manager Roy Hodgson first decided to take Aquilani off Liverpool’s books. However, with 20 million pounds invested in the player, considering that he was expected to take over Xabi Alonso’s duties after the Spaniard’s departure, selling the Italian would be a loss on the fronts of quality as well as money for the club. In came Juventus, ready to take Aquilani on loan.
Aquilani performed well at Juventus, combining well with Felipe Melo to power the Old Lady’s midfield. He made 35 appearances and scored two goals in a season that would give his career a hope. However, what is interesting to see here is that, Aquilani performed better on his defensive side while at Turin. He notched up an average of three tackles per game (higher than any other Juventus player). In addition to this, he averaged an interception rate of 1.5 at the end of the season and a solid 82% pass accuracy rate. These numbers actually make him a better player in a deeper midfield role. It is a Point to be noted for Liverpool.
Aquilani expressed his desire to stay at Juventus but the club’s refusal to meet his eight million-euros release clause led to the Italian’s return to Liverpool. Once again, the shadows of his ill-fated first season sprung up. Aquilani had to prove he was worth the money and confidence put in him by the English club. At this time around though, there was a different man at helm – Kenny Dalglish.
Liverpool were just released from the clutches of Hicks and Gilett and were looking to rekindle the spark that keeps the club afloat amongst stern competition from the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea. It didn’t look like there was room for Liverpool’s no.19. The club wasted little time in taking a decision on his future and showed him the road to Milan.
The time spent at San Siro was the best season that Aquilani has had since leaving Roma. He made a total of 41 appearances, scoring two goals and earning eight assists to his name. At this point in time, it made a lot of sense for him to stay in Italy. But once again, the frivolous manner in which his contract was negotiated saw him aboard the flight back to Liverpool.
Milan were to purchase Aquilani at a knock-down price of 6.4 million-pounds had he completed 25 appearances. However, with the player falling just short of that figure, Milan would not trigger his buyout clause voluntarily.
Now, Alberto Aquilani’s future lies in the hands of Brendan Rodgers. Many believe the player is not suited for the physical nature of the English game and his medical record advises him to best stay away from England. The statistics below tell a different story otherwise:
If you notice the ‘Fouls Suffered’ column (FS), there isn’t a stark difference at his time in Italy and England. In fact, Aquilani ‘suffered’ much more during his time at AC Milan and Juventus than his season at Liverpool. Remember that he was also nursing his ankle during his time at Liverpool and was in relatively better shape on his two loan spells.
So the problem is not adapting to the physical nature of the English game. The problem is whether or not Aquilani can be an impact player as of today. Going by Brendan Rodgers’ philosophy of football, it makes sense to have a quick, clever passer like Aquilani in the ranks. With Gerrard now better positioned to play a little deep, he could partner well with the Italian and give a bold look to Liverpool’s midfield. The style followed by Rodgers will also allow Aquilani to move up the pitch as the game builds up around clean passing. It consequently prepares him to appear in front of goal more often than he was before.
Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers haven’t yet taken a decision on Alberto Aquilani’s future. Whatever may be the verdict, there would always be a grain of doubt behind everyone’s mind on Aquilani being fit in the present Liverpool squad and more importantly, under the new manager.
He can no longer be viewed or valued as a 20-million-pound player. But he can still create the kind of impact the Kop has been waiting to see. The Liverpool folklore is not yet in a position to pass a judgment on Aquilani as a footballer. However, if he wears the Red shirt next season, we will all witness a new Prince.